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Cafritz' Property Slated to Bring Major Retail to Riverdale Park

While residents welcome adding retail like Whole Foods to the neighborhood, the development raises concerns about traffic and infrastructure.

A local property in Riverdale Park is slated to bring an array of prominent retail for a multi-use development, including a Whole Foods market, but some intricate concerns may stagger its plans.

“We’re the perfect audience for Whole Foods,” Mayor John Tabori of University Park said, in regards to the business’ customer base. “But not if it's not convenient and difficult to walk there, and if the construction and development are disruptive.”

Three years ago, the 38.5-acre area of land off Route 1 owned by the Cafritz family was tapped for development purposes, expected to turn into a multi-use property. The plans had since stagnated as speculation surrounded whether the plans were legit, until the owners sat down with county officials on May 12 to present plans for Whole Foods and the rest of their available retail space, although it's currently only zoned for single-family homes.

Riverdale Park Councilwoman Alice Ewen (Ward 1) is excited about the ambitious plans that are being offered and particularly excited about Whole Foods coming to Riverdale Park and Prince George’s County.

Ewen said the area would greatly benefit from having a variety of housing — like condominiums, townhouses and upscale apartments — and new retailers.

However, she’s glad to hear that all parties involved are coming together to find solutions.

“We’d been talking to them and they showed us that Whole Foods was real,” said Brad Frome, Deputy Chief of Staff for Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker. “They wanted to show folks that this was reality and that we want to be apart of this project.”

Frome sat in the meeting with County Executive Rushern Baker, and asserted that while they weren’t in favor of the whole project yet, since it hasn’t presented itself in full, they do support the idea of bringing the market to Riverdale Park. It would be the first in Prince George's County.

That, and the bulk of retail that Cafritz’ development will bring, is a great amenity to residents, Frome said. Plenty of residents shop at Whole Foods but leave the county to do so; bringing the store to Riverdale Park will help residents benefit from the tax revenue it will generate.

Despite its benefits, it’s the first round of planning for the development, and the overwhelming challenges of the location will make it difficult to get full support from all parties involved.

“I think there are challenges with the overall development,” said Councilman Eric Olson. “They’re proposing a large scale development. When you put a large scale development on the corridor, you have to be aware of the transportation challenges.”

According to Olson, there is limited infrastructure in the area. A heavy retail strip will only further congest the Route 1, which is already experiencing backups and is at full capacity.

“We want a more walkable, bike-able and pedestrian-oriented community environment,” Ewen said. “At the same time I think there’s room for development in the area.”

A traffic study was presented at the meeting to dive into the issues, but no solutions were presented. The study also only covered two separate rush hours and would need additional analysis, said Tabori.

“You have to look at particular spots,” he said. “You have to look at things from every angle. There are other points in the day when queuing might occur that will disrupt the town.”

Tabori suggested that an independent study be constructed by someone with an “unbiased point of view and expert credentials.” Cafritz’ engineers were talented, he said, but there could be subtle bias if they’re looking out for their client’s best interest, and if their interests don’t coincides with the regions. 

"We have to realize that Route 1 is a corridor in a metropolitan area," Ewen said. "Traffic is going to be an issue."

In addition to the traffic concerns the development raises, the roughly 100,000 square footage of retail space that will be left over after Whole Foods could cause problems if it isn’t fully developed. The nearby available spaces at Prince George’s Plaza are difficult to upkeep and lease as the project is still trying to garner retail attention. Adding another development space on top of that poses a major risk if it does poorly, as well.

Next on the town’s agenda is to get an engineering report done to look at managing the storm water drains, as a stream flows directly under Route 1. But elected officials agree that they want to see the Cafritz’ property do well – the plans just need to be scrutinized a bit more to ensure its success.

“We’re not opposed to reasonable development,” Tabori said. “What concerns us is just the impact and the exact formation of it.”

She said it’s up to representatives however to protect water quality and for developers to minimize their storm water impact, however a she thinks a retailer like Whole Foods will be as green as possible.

Owners for the Cafritz Property were not available for comment in time for this piece.

Sonia Dasgupta contributed to this report.

Update: Links related items on Rethink College Park, Route 1 Growth Blog, Riverdale Wiki and Cafritz Property.

Adelphi Sky May 24, 2011 at 08:51 PM
It is a good idea because this area lacks a quality grocer. It is a good idea because I'd rather not have to drive to Montgomery county for my groceries. I'd rather save gas and spend my hard earned money in my own county. It's a good idea because we complain about our schools, roads, and lack of services and yet have no opportunities to attract quality businesses that will add to the tax base. Without tax revenue, we won't have the services that other counties enjoy. It's a good idea because the Washington area is growing and I would rather our county to attract those new residents and add to our sustainability rather then they avoid our county like the plague. Again, more tax revenue. I think most people have lost sight of how other counties have flourished while ours has stagnated. Bring in retail and dense communities near mass transit and you increase your tax base by attracting more retail and TOD. You can't have one without the other. For most people in Riverdale and College Park, the new development will be within walking or bike distance. In addition, people who live in the area will already be on the road anyway either going to work, school, or running errands. I'm not so sure that Whole Foods will draw such a big crowd with YOM down the street.
Joe Kelly May 26, 2011 at 12:04 AM
Why must a community's desirability be measured by opportunities for consumption? Why not measure it by what you can see, or not see, hear, or not hear, breathe, or not breathe? Why can't it be measured by how easy it is to go from there to somewhere else--somewhere different, where you can see, hear, breathe, and if you wish, buy different things?
Pachacutec May 26, 2011 at 02:52 PM
Well, must be nice to be able to spend all kinds of money for groceries, but many of us in the area simply don't make lots of money (and yes, believe it or not, there's some perfectly nice people among us, even though we DON'T make 6-figure incomes). Too, it would be nice to have not only an affordable grocery but something different. As it is, our area is rapidly becoming just another sterile, looks-like-everywhere-else suburb, nothing different to bring new people into the area, certainly nothing they can't find just about everywhere else. Yawn.
Adelphi Sky May 26, 2011 at 03:09 PM
Jobs won't come to this county unless it's liveable. People want convenience. They want to be able to work, eat, play, and shop in their neighborhood. Saves gas and the environment by reducing traffic. College Park is inside the beltway and between two transit hubs. If people don't want to live here, companies won't locate here. No companies, no jobs, no tax base. Retail and services come first. When someone sees that they can eat, shop, and play 10 minutes from where they work, then they relocate here. More tax revenue, better schools, roads, services. We always complain about poor schools, lack of services, and lack of retail options, but then fail to realize that those precious little plots of land are potential revenue streams. I would much rather build inside the beltway and preserve the forest and farmlands in the southeastern parts of the county rather than sprawl just so that thing don't get too crowded where there's already high density. Remember - retail -> jobs -> people -> revenue. Some of the most desirable places to live in this region have high density growth because they have the jobs and the services to make them attractive. Bethesda and Chevy chase seem to be doing pretty well with Wisconsin and Connecticut avenues. Look at Georgetown. Most people love to go there to shop and live. There's hardly ANYTHING on RT. 1 and we're screaming bloody murder because of a Whole Foods? Really? It's not like we'll become Rockville Pike or even Wisconsin avenue.
Adelphi Sky May 26, 2011 at 03:14 PM
There are plenty of high income earners as well. You forget there's a Shoppers up the road and a Giant off of Kenilworth Avenue. There's another Giant off of 410. Can I get an organic grocer with tons of options? I mean look at University BLVD. TONS of discount grocers, all ethnic though. I live in Adelphi, there's not ONE standard grocery store. All ethnic. Not one is organic. So, when I see a Whole Foods, I say bring it! Because my family doesn't have ANY options. We have to travel to Montgomery County and give them our hard earned money when it can be spent here to help improve our own county. MOM is too small and they have limited options. YOM in Hyattsville will only be a bit larger than MOM. Whole Foods at Cafritz will be the closest. So close in fact I could ride my bike to the store and save gas. There are plenty affordable options for middle income families in this area.
Michael B. Cron May 26, 2011 at 04:39 PM
Lets face it, small business in this area does not get the support it needs to survive. Local residents need to support these businesses. I lost a million dollars trying to bring small business to this area. My business was within walking distance from University Park, Hyattsville and Lewisdale. Along with not enough customer support, federal, state, county and city governments helped put me and others like me out of business by sucking what little cash was left. Small business seems to be the only revenue stream available. Where is the incentive to even open a business? What makes the Cafritz Property better than any other (already built and failing) property in this area? Household income has absolutely nothing to do with this problem. People in this area don't like parking garages or paying to park, period!
Mark G May 26, 2011 at 04:41 PM
You make some good points, Adelphi Sky. I think people in our part of PG County should be realistic about what we are and what we have ( an urban environment, inside the Beltwaywhere people of middle and modest incomes have found places to live) . We're not a swanky area. We're not out in the country. We've gotten some bad press etc. All that said, we can still become a place that has attractive affordable housing, shopping, restaurants, culture, parks and green spaces where people get can get around without a car (or at least not one car per sentient being). The possibilities are there. I understand the desire not to become a sterile, anonymous, Generica suburb. However, nail shops, dollar stores, pawn shops and check cashing establishments are not much of an alternative. Hip, interesting businesses and the people who run (and patronize) them are not going to magically appear without some sort of incentives. One thing that cold happen if the Cafritz development is successful is some decent stores in the Town Center area of Riverdale. Nothing seems to have workled thus far.
M. Hermanson May 26, 2011 at 06:49 PM
Glad to see discussion on this! As much as I would love to have more retail w/in walking distance of my house, I'm not sure if it's smart to build more while so much is vacant. Also not sure if it's smart to build more housing while so much is vacant. Would love to see a process like the one used in Chicago. Developers cannot break ground until a specific % of their units are sold/rented. This would have helped UTC avoid the current situation where the condos never sold and the foot traffic for the restaurants never materialized. It also makes it easier for Park and Planning -- they don't have to guess about market demand and if the local market is saturated already. If there's no market for the property they can't make the pre-construction sales/rentals and they can't break ground. I guess my feelings are that I don't trust Park and Planning to get it right and I'm afraid we'll end up w/ 1/2 empty retail and housing -- especially if East Campus is built. Which, btw, seems like a better location for a destination grocery like Whole Foods. Also was thinking about Cafritz's proposal while driving down Georgia Ave. in Wheaton. Wheaton's metro is surrounded by high-density development but the buildings are 5 stories, while the Cafritz's proposal included buildings as tall as 11 or 13 stories. I wonder about the likelihood of filling up such tall buildings. Yet, I think they are part of the proposal because the retail is not viable w/o them.
ilkunta May 26, 2011 at 07:09 PM
Michael B Cron, How did you loose $1million trying to bring small businesses to Univ Park, Hyattsville, Lewisdale?
Michael B. Cron May 26, 2011 at 07:35 PM
Michelle, You make some good points. Thank you!
Adelphi Sky May 26, 2011 at 07:46 PM
UTC's failure was due to poor management and the recession to some degree. My wife was a manager at one of the stores there when it opened and she attended the meetings with the store owners and property managers. The store owners were always frustrated at the PM's lack of action to address the needs of the store owners. When I think about all the other TODs that thrived and whetered the storm, there's no way UTC should be they way it is now. Look at Downtown Silver Spring. It's at least two blocks from the metro. With all of the students that live there as well as offices and it's prozimity to the metro, businesses should not have had to close. Especially with all the foot traffic from the mall that could have been tapped. UTC is a good project and very smart growth. Management is the only thing that could possibly ruin it. The price points weren't too high either. I usually eat at expensive restuarants when I dine out and to me Carolina Kitchen is way overpriced. You can't leave without spending over $60. Yet, they thrive. Or so it seems as though they are doing well. I see your point about building more than the market demands which is why East Campus and The Enclave are being built in phases. Usually retail comes first until there is demand for residences. Needless to with the D.C. area economy doing better than others, more people are moving to the area. Especially because of BRAC. They will need somehwere to live. I think that's what developers are banking on.
Michael B. Cron May 27, 2011 at 04:57 AM
The remaining businesses at UTC only barely exist. Hank's is owned by the landlord but managed by Chef Jeff with no rent expense. Carolina Kitchen does OK because it has a following from their sister location in Largo. Five Guys has already been sold by its original franchisee to a new owner. Qdoba has to give food away to the college and local high school students on Wednesdays to bolster their sales. These students only eat once a week as they patronize UTC very sparingly any other day of the week. The Qdoba location has the backing of over 40 other sister locations in the Maryland, DC and No. Virginia area to cover the UTC location shortfall. Wild Onion although very good is suffering. There are no other Wild Onion locations to cover the UTC's location losses. Old Dominion is still open along with its Chinese buffet and sushi bar. I have no idea how they are still open for business. The Three Brothers with over 35 years of local recognition in the suburban Maryland area located between their 2 busiest corporate locations Beltway Plaza, Greenbelt and Bladensburg could not even survive after almost 3 years in business. The only business that is doing well is the movie theatre. The biggest failure of UTC was not only the management but also the original construction delays of the project (2 1/2 years delayed) because of Prince Georges County, Pepco, Washington Gas and Park and Planning. Not to mention it took almost 2 1/2 more years to get the marquis sign built.
Michael B. Cron May 27, 2011 at 05:25 AM
Because the wheels of progress did not get enough grease and bad timing, when the housing market crashed, Safeway with 12 stories of condos and apartments above it had enough time to back out of their deal with UTC, the promised hotel and big box store became nonexistent. UTC became a modern day "ghost town" with more un-rented retail space than rented space. Now with all of the new student housing being built closer to the University of Maryland, The Student Towers is loosing tenants because it is farther away and the rent is more expensive than the new student housing. Another big blow to UTC has not even happened yet. The U.S. Treasury Department will be relocating and leaving an entire office building empty by 2012. I hope UTC has another tenant in the wings. Now tell me again why the Cafritz Development is so important that it needs to be built now?
Adelphi Sky May 27, 2011 at 12:47 PM
For me it's really all about Whole Foods. I'm tired of driving to Silver Spring to shop. Let's keep those dollars in our own county. Whole Foods would be the only moderately sized quality grocer in our area. Shoppers is great, but it's too far. Giant on 410 is great but not a sizable organic selection. MOM is so small it's hit or miss. YOM won't be much bigger. In addition, grocers like Whole Foods draws other retailers. It's on RT. 1 and not tucked away like UTC. So, there will be visibility. UTC makes me frustrated. It's smart growth gone bad. It's like planting flowers on bad soil. No matter where you develop in this area, things just don't grow and blossom.
O'Neil Marshall May 30, 2011 at 03:16 PM
I am very excited about the proposed project. It's amazing, a major County, PG, with nearly 900,000 people residing in it and no Whole Foods Market to call home to. What's even more amazing, is the fact that there are people like Michael B. Cron and others who are opposing progress and development within our community. Yes, the recession did kill a lot of businesses. I know the University town Center project would have been a much bigger success if it wasn't for the recession. But by golly, I still love the potential of the University town Center and I would rather see a movie there than go to Beltway Plaza or crowded Silver Spring to watch a movie. We have such promise and such potential within our community. Instead of choosing to go so negative about UTC, why not see it for its potential. The Cafritz project is in the early stages of planning and development, I hope you NIMBY's don't try to criticize and block their proposal anymore, but instead work with them and see the benefits. Fairfax County and Montgomery County combined have nearly a dozen whole foods and we cannot even get one off the ground. We often cry foul that high-end stores pass us by to neighboring counties. It is so sad, that we cannot even get support from some of our citizens who would rather become roadblocks to progress. Trust me folks, whole foods market would not be eyeing our community if they did not see a tremendous potential.
Michael B. Cron May 30, 2011 at 04:11 PM
What this NIMBY has problem with is uncontrolled sprawl such as in the College Park area. I am not against progress but building for the sake of building makes no sense. There is too much un-rented retail space all around us already. What makes you think that if they build it "we" will all come? What makes you think that Whole Foods wouldn't back out of their deal just like Safeway did at University Town Center because construction and permitting took too long?
Joe Kelly May 31, 2011 at 02:50 AM
Please, everyone, don't forget, the purpose of this development, and any other one is to MAKE MONEY FOR THE PRINCIPALS. That's it, no more, no less. If the Cafritz Group thought that Toys'R'Us would get local people excited, then THAT would be their anchor. There's no noblesse oblige involved, it's just a name that pricks up ears. Quick; tell me one more retail opportunity that you're dying to have within walking distance. The fact is that this was once a housing development, and it is still zoned as such. If the Cafritz Group would like to breathe new life into it, in any way they see fit, they are welcome. If, however, they want to drop another "mixed use" development between two residential neighborhoods, I must say "No, thank you".
Joe Kelly May 31, 2011 at 02:59 AM
Oh, and by the way, I truly am a NIMBY. From my "BY" on Tuckerman St. I probably could throw an organic peach pit through any glass houses built nearby, unless they were solar powered.
Michael B. Cron May 31, 2011 at 04:31 AM
Thank you Joe from one NIMBY to another!
Adelphi Sky May 31, 2011 at 11:25 AM
1. Building a mixed-use development in an already densely populated area inside the beltway is not sprawl, it's smart growth. For those of us who need and want a grocer like Whole Foods 1 mile away instead of 9 miles away, it's a win/win. 2. No one is building for the sake of building. There's a dearth of quality retail and services in this county. We are all aware of that. Do we really need another Giant, Aldi, or an ethnic grocer? We have plenty. Yet, not within walking distance for those who live near Rt. in College Park. Unless people buy their groceries from the CVS in downtown College Park? 3. Yes, all principles involved make money, including the neighborhoods and county involved. People have to understand that living inside the beltway in a densely populated area will not continue to avoid development. Not when the Washington area as a whole is growing, not when UMD is try to become a top 10 university, and not when suburban sprawl is slowing and smart growth/TOD is picking up pace. So, you have a choice, embrace smart growth with clusters of mixed-use development, or continue to loose tax revenue because no one wants to live in College Park, no one wants to work there, and no one wants to shop there. And continue to wonder why your schools are stuck in mediocrity and you have no money for city services, etc. UTC struggles from bad management and bad timing. You can't compare the two. UTC will be the poster child of how not to manage a smart growth TOD property.
O'Neil Marshall June 01, 2011 at 02:33 PM
Whole Foods Market is known as a leader in pursuing good quality planned developments. What the Cafritz family are trying to do is to develop a Barren wooded development into a beautiful and inviting upscale community that will encourage people who reside in Hyattsville, College Park, Riverdale and the University Park area to actually get out of their cars and walk to a pedestrian friendly planned community. This is what I see as smart growth which makes good sense, plus what a wonderful perk it is to have an opportunity for Whole Foods to join this development.. You made some very good points Adelphi Sky that makes a lot of sense. Thanks to people like you who has vision and can see the potential of a good quality development. The fact of the matter is, I bet people like Michael B Cron would have done everything possible to try to block the development that's going on in downtown Hyattsville, block the UTC development and block University of Maryland East campus's proposed development. People like them are not visionaries. They don't know what progress is and they cannot see how this will make for a stronger and more vibrant community with a stronger tax base that protects our property values. In addition, by keeping residents to shop in our neighborhoods will often reduce traffic because many people who live within our community would rather choose to walk. NIMBY's need to remain in their backyards because there are so many others who desires progress.
Michael B. Cron June 02, 2011 at 03:19 AM
Obviously you are so enamored with Whole Foods Market that you are incapable of seeing the big picture. You cannot be any more wrong in your assessment as to what I believe! I will have you know that I was the second tenant to sign a lease at University Town Center. I believed at the time that UTC would be an incredible mixed-use center. I signed the lease in April of 2006 but due to mismanagement and poor planning by the landlord, my restaurant did not open until January of 2008. Because of the landlord's inability to keep within their construction timeline, Safeway decided to pull out of the deal along with a hotel and a big box retail store thus removing three of the four main draws to the center. As a result of landlord mismanagement, I had to close my restaurant after three years in business, put 23 people out of work and loose a one million dollar investment. Four other stores in UTC also failed as well. Do you want to know why? Because UTC was and is not being supported by the same people that will not support the Cafritz Property if it is built. You have some set of stones to assume that I am against growth and progress in this area! I have lived here for over 32 years and believe that this is still the best area to live, in Prince Georges County. Growth and progress should and will happen when this area is able to support it 100%. UTC's failure has opened my eyes as to how things around here really work. I guess this experience can qualify me as being a visionary.
CP Resident June 02, 2011 at 01:34 PM
Michael, it is unfortunate that your business failed, but there is always risk involved in starting a business. Although the UTC development has not been as successful as any of us hoped - I was really looking forward to the Safeway, and I agree with you that if it had been built, everything would be different at UTC. However, it is still an improvement over what was there before, and there is hope that sometime in the future it will improve. I appreciate having a good movie theater nearby, and Hank's is a great place. I tried Three Brothers several times and wanted to like it, but there is better pizza available at other places and I found the other food only okay and overpriced for the quality. Some locally-owned restaurants do succeed in the area, with Franklins as the best example. Kiyoko Express in downtown College Park is owned by a resident of College Park, and the other small Asian food places in downtown College Park have also been in business for many years. Sure, most of us would like to see more locally-owned restaurants succeed, but they need to be worth going to, with delicious food. It simply was not worth making the trip to Three Brothers for what was offered there. Your example is not indicative of what can happen with the Cafritz property if the development there is done properly.
Adelphi Sky June 02, 2011 at 02:21 PM
Michael, I agree with everything you say. I too have intimate knowledge of what happened at UTC. My wife worked there in one of the establishments that is no longer there. She attended the meetings with management. She used to share with me the complaints the business owners like yourself had. My wife and I make it a point to visit every new business that opens near us. We've been to every restaurant in UTC at least once. Hanks is our favorite. We just tried Old Dominion again, but the atmosphere has "changed". Though it is still empty. Whole Foods is a game changer much like Wegmans. It's a destination. Which is why my wife and I drive past about 4 grocery stores to the one in Silver Spring. You have to admit, Whole Foods is an awesome place. Their produce selection is top notch. Their hot food bar is awesome. They have a mini cafe inside with a server. Their vitamin and holistic medicine section is by far the best I've seen. They have a huge selection of cheeses which my wife loves. No other grocer can compare. That's why people are willing to drive so far. When you have that "pull" it draws people to the development that otherwise would not have come. It's unfortunate that Whole Foods was not considered or did not consider UTC. I can almost guarantee that UTC would be a different story. We need offices. Offices bring people. People bring money. Offices also draw people who want to live closer to where they work. Then they will shop where they live and work.
Michael B. Cron June 02, 2011 at 03:55 PM
I respect your opinion about Three Brothers however it is just that, your opinion. For every one that did not care for it, there were hundreds that did. It still does not change the fact that UTC has failed due to lack of local support. One more thing, I spent over 65 hours a week at my restaurant, it would have been great if you had come to me with your displeasure so that I could have tried to rectify the problem(s).
PGC June 02, 2011 at 05:17 PM
I would also add that no other Three Brothers location (in PG County or elsewhere) has ever gone out of business. Correct me if I am wrong. Why should a business fail at UTC but not elsewhere? It suggests to me that it has more to do with the location than the business itself. I am also wondering why the UTC fountain is not operating. It was almost 100 degrees earlier this week. I thought that maybe they were waiting until Memorial Day to officially kick off summer, but that theory went out the window this week. The fountain is supposed to be both a community amenity AND a draw for business. When not turned on, the fountain serves as neither. Is UTC crediting back some rent to its tenants due to their inability to activate this key amenity, one that was so popular in 2008 and 2009?
Michael B. Cron June 02, 2011 at 09:19 PM
PGC, that is a good question! So basically are you saying that the businesses in UTC failed because of their location in UTC proper or are you saying being located at UTC altogether? It all boils down to the fact that the landlord's inability to fulfill his promises to the existing tenants that depended on a total and completely finished center contributed to the tenants demise. As a stipulation to construction I would require the Cafritz property to guarantee in writing to all of the neighboring towns and county that Whole Foods and any other anchor stores be locked in and committed to the property regardless of how long it takes to build. Now to correct your Three Brothers trivia. The following stores have gone out of business. Bel Air, La Plata, Lexington Park, Silver Spring, Rockville, Laurel and University Town Center. Glen Burnie will be closing soon as well. Only Laurel and UTC have since re-opened. The UTC fountain is either broken and the landlord does not have any money to fix it or they are trying to save water. The other reason is that Prince Georges County requires that the landlord have a swimming pool operator on premise to take hourly chlorine readings of the fountain because people wade in it.
Emil Farkwarp June 21, 2011 at 01:31 PM
They avoid it because of the riff-raff. That, and the fact that there is nothing remotely remarkable about any of the developments... including this same-old.
Emil Farkwarp June 21, 2011 at 01:36 PM
The gummint didn't put you out of biz, your lack of customers did. Rookie mistake...
Emil Farkwarp June 21, 2011 at 01:43 PM
If the water gets turned on you can watch the locals bathe in it.

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